As the holiday season approaches, our small city becomes a melting pot of cultural celebrations. Each tradition reflects a story, a history, and a unique way of spreading joy. Let’s embark on a global journey to explore some of the most fascinating and diverse holiday traditions from around the world.
Sweden’s St. Lucia Day
In Sweden, one of the most cherished holiday traditions is St. Lucia Day, celebrated on December 13th. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season and is dedicated to Saint Lucia, a symbol of light and hope. Young girls dress in white gowns with red sashes and wear wreaths with candles on their heads, singing songs and bringing saffron buns to their families, spreading warmth and light during the darkest time of the year.
Japan’s KFC Christmas
In a fascinating blend of culture and commerce, Japan has developed a unique Christmas tradition – enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken. What started as a marketing campaign in the 1970s called “Kentucky for Christmas”, has become a nationwide custom, with families ordering their KFC Christmas dinner weeks in advance. It’s a testament to how new traditions can take root and flourish.
Spain’s El Gordo
Spain’s Christmas season is marked by the drawing of El Gordo (‘the fat one’), the world’s largest lottery. Taking place on December 22nd, it’s not just a lottery but a national event where families and friends gather around their TVs to watch the winning numbers being drawn, hoping for a festive windfall.
Philippines’ Simbang Gabi
In the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, Simbang Gabi is a series of nine dawn masses leading up to Christmas Day. Starting on December 16th, these masses are a cherished tradition, symbolizing devotion and anticipation for the birth of Christ. After each service, streets are filled with vendors selling local delicacies like bibingka (rice cakes) and puto bumbong (steamed purple rice pastries).
Iceland has a beautiful tradition known as Jólabókaflóð, or the Christmas Book Flood. Books that are published in the months before Christmas are listen in an annual catalogue called the ‘Journal of Books’ that is given out to all households for free. For many, the release of this catalogue marks the beginning of the holiday season and these books are often bought as presents to be gifted on Christmas Eve, and then read through the night.
Norway’s Christmas Eve Rituals
In Norway, one of the more peculiar Christmas Eve traditions involves hiding all the brooms in the house. It’s believed that on Christmas Eve, witches and evil spirits come out, and hiding the brooms prevents them from being stolen and ridden across the country. While this tradition stems from ancient superstitions, it continues to add a whimsical element to Norwegian Christmas celebrations.
Italy’s La Befana
In Italy, children await the arrival of La Befana, a friendly witch who delivers gifts and sweets to children on the night of January 5th, Epiphany Eve. According to folklore, La Befana was approached by the Wise Men for directions to Bethlehem but declined to join them. She later regretted her decision and now travels the world, giving gifts to children.
Germany’s Advent Wreaths
The tradition of the Advent wreath originated in Germany. It involves placing four candles on a wreath of fir branches, with one candle being lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas. The lighting of each candle represents the growing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Universal Joy of Celebration
The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration, observed in myriad ways across different cultures and countries. While each tradition has its unique charm and significance, they all share a common thread of bringing people together and illuminating the year’s darkest days.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?